Choosing Progress Over Perfection

Life is exhausting when you’re a perfectionist. That’s because nothing is ever even close to perfect, certainly not for any amount of time. It’s a never-ending circle of frustration and disappointment.

Are you so focused on perfection that you are caught in the circle of disappointment and frustration? Focus on progress instead. Your life and finances will thank you!

Oh man, did I use to be a perfectionist. There was a time in my life where it served me well, but, of course, this was before I had kids.

Because of my struggle with perfectionism, if I’m not good at something I simply don’t want to do it. Overcoming it has been one of my greatest challenges in life. But, I can now say that I’m a recovering perfectionist. Sometimes I’m doing great. Sometimes I lapse. And I still hold onto it in some areas (like my handwriting you can see here and here).

When you’re trying to get your financial life in order, there’s no room for perfectionism. It’s infinitely more important to focus on progress.


Do you know how many times most people try to create a budget and fail? Now, I don’t have exact data to back this up, but I’m pretty sure it’s close to a gazillion.

If you’ve tried and failed at budgeting, don’t just give up. Try another method or alternate budgeting program. There are so many different ways to budget and the best way to do it is simply the way that works best for you. For example:

  • Just because someone says that they’ve used Quicken for 20 years and it’s the best doesn’t mean it’s the one you should use also (or me for that matter-I’m not a fan!).
  • Creating a bare-bones budget and trying to live off it for an extended period of time is certainly not the best way to start out. It will only frustrate you.
  • Those that don’t love the process of budgeting may benefit from using a 50/20/30 budget instead of budgeting by specific category.

Focus on the progress you’ve made rather than the exact success you’ve had. This might mean simply celebrating the fact that you tried out a new method and are closer to finding something that works for you!


Perhaps you’ve set up an early debt payoff plan. You’re so excited to knock out all your debt, you have a great start, and then life throws you some (financial) curve balls.

It can be easy to forget the progress you made and the potential you still have to make a big difference. Even if you have to skip a few extra payments to cover the immediate financial obligation, keep that long-term view in sight. If you’re a number person, you can calculate how much interest you’ve already saved and how much more quickly you’ll be able to pay off your debt because of your extra payments.

Just as one bad day doesn’t make for a bad life, one bad financial turn doesn’t have to derail you from the financial life you want.


Focusing your efforts at first when trying to align your spending habits can be extremely challenging. However, even if you don’t come out below each budget category, but have simply made small improvements, it’s a success!

After all, who has really improved more:

  1. Someone that improves their spending from $500 per month to $100 per month over their income, or
  2. Someone that improves their spending from $100 per month over their income to $100 per month less than their income?

It seems like a bigger accomplishment to finally go from overspending your income to saving (and it is a big accomplishment!), however, the first person has made more progress on their spending.


It’s great to want to improve. After all, those who don’t seek out improvement are generally moving backwards, not simply standing still.

It’s important to have lofty financial goals to work toward. You want to stretch yourself to accomplish them, even if it can be difficult.

But above all, it’s essential to make sure that you’re moving forward each and every day, even if the progress is small.

How have you focused on progress over perfection in your personal finances?


12 Responses

  1. Great post! It reminds me of a book my wife read recently – and loved! Present Over Perfect. She said it was very powerful and it sounds like it runs along similar lines.

    1. I think I need to read that book! I’m sure I’ve heard of it before, but haven’t yet read it. It’s going on the list :).

  2. Very good advice. I remember getting stuck in this perfection loop when I first started investing. 401K or Roth. Fidelity or Scottrade or Etrade. Mutual funds or ETFs.

    Finally a co worker told me you are never going to figure it all out. The only mistake you can make is not starting now. So I opened a Roth with Scottrade and bought some mutual funds that day. All of that has completely changed since then but I’m so glad I just took that first step.

    1. That’s so great that you had someone there to encourage you to just get started. I find myself still sometimes getting in the perfection trap and having to remind myself that sometimes a nonperfect decision is better than none at all.

  3. Baby steps can make giant results over-time and it’s been proven so many times. If we can just make a list and find that one item to reduce, cut, eliminate, it can generate that momentum of progress as you mentioned. And i like the 50/20/30 you’ve mentioned because it doesn’t get into all the details which some people may find too time consuming.

    1. Keeping the momentum is so important. I’m still too much of a perfectionist to let go of my detailed budget, but I think the 50/20/30 is a great way to go (maybe someday I’ll get to that point, lol).

  4. Hello Kathryn! This is so true. I am so perfectionist at times that it sucks the energy out of me. But I learned to let loose and life becomes easier.

    1. It really is so much easier! And because I don’t feel like things have to be perfect, thinks get done better ironically :).

  5. This post reminds me of Dave Ramsey when he says if you’ve made a mistake with money, that means you’re over 10 years old. I think too often I would have a tendency to beat myself up over dumb purchases in hindsight instead of focusing on all the positive. At times this would derail me. So it took a little bit to overcome the perfection barrier but I think I’m finally there 🙂 Although I have to watch myself from time to time!!!

    1. I haven’t heard that Dave Ramsey quote before. It’s so true-it’s not whether or not you make mistakes (you will!) but what you do afterward that counts.



I’m Kathryn Hanna-wife, mother of 3 and a Certified Public Accountant. I love to budget (really, I do!) , build spreadsheets and spend money on travel, sewing supplies and good chocolate.


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